IREDD Launches Participatory mapping and Land Use in Concession Communities in Bomi and Grand Kru, Liberia.

The Institute for Research and Democratic Development commissions participatory mapping and land use in concessions communities in Sinjeh, Bomi and Garraway Town and Pungalorken, Lower Garraway Clan, Garraway District, Grand Kru County with funding from the United Nations Development Programme.

The ultimate objectives of this study are to: verify and examine the current legal land use status the two targeted counties; define and explore the economic, environmental and social effects and impacts of the palm oil and mining industries on the well-being of affected communities; and assess and determine whether and to what extent the effects and impacts of the industries of note have influenced communities’ perception of the companies’ longevity. This intervention is premised on the below background:

Liberia is still rich in valuable natural resources that include iron ore, timber and large areas of land that are particularly suitable for the cultivation of export cash crops such as rubber and oil palm.  As part of the rebuilding efforts following the 14 years of civil war, the Government of Liberia renegotiated long-term contracts with international investors to exploit what is left of the country’s critical natural resources, with emphasis on iron ore and palm oil that are the focus of this consultancy. Accounts suggest that between 30 to 50 percent of the land in Liberia has been handed out to large-scale concessions, totaling over 5.1 million hectares. Mining accounts for 56 percent, and palm oil producers, 12 percent. ArcelorMittal is one of the giants of the mining industry that had been awarded a mining contract.

Mining is a short-term activity with long-term effects. There can be no doubt that when it takes place in forests, it is a factor of deforestation and forest degradation. The enormous consumption of water required by mining activities generally reduces the water table around mining sites, drying up wells and springs. Water usually ends up being contaminated by the acid drainage, that is, exposure to air and water of the acids formed in certain types of ore – sulphuric acids in particular, as a result of mining activities, which in turn react with other exposed minerals.

A self-perpetuated dumping of acid toxic materials is generated that can go on for hundreds of years or even thousands of years. Furthermore, the small particulates of heavy metals that with time separate from the waste, are disseminated by wind, landing on the soil and in the beds of watercourses and slowly integrating the tissues of living organisms such as fish. Mining comes along with its promise of wealth and jobs, but millions are those throughout the world who can testify to the high social costs that it brings with it. These include appropriation of the land of local communities, impacts on health, alteration of social relationships, destruction of forms of community substance and life, social disintegration, radical and abrupt changes in regional cultures and displacement of other present and/or future local economic activities.

For the palm oil industry, international investors such as Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby have acquired the rights to use large tracts of land to develop large-scale oil palm plantations. In view of concessioning such a massive tract of land, a UNDP report notes and argues that secure access, tenure, use and control of land, whether through customary systems or legal means, are essential to achieving food security and to protecting  women and vulnerable groups from injustices related to arbitrary management of land when and where they happen.

While investments by transnational corporations in iron ore and oil palm may promote economic growth at the national level, experience shows that such concessions do have major environmental and social impacts on local communities. In a situation such as described, a win-win solution is the only hope for investors and the Liberian government, especially local communities of stallholder farmers whose lives are almost entirely dependent on the land that has been concessioned. AML, GVL and SD are cognizant of these negative impacts of the iron ore and palm oil industries, and have taken concrete and remarkable steps towards progress in these respects. This study is purposed to build a foundation upon which more can be learned and understood about how best current efforts by the above companies can be further strengthened and sustained.